On Monday, July 5th, we went to the Oriental Theatre to see "Micmacs," the new film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also brought us "Amalie" and "City of Lost Children." The French title, "Micmacs à tire-larigot" can be translated as "Non-stop Hijinks," a title that would be appropriate for a Mack Sennet or Three Stooges two-reeler.
Indeed, following the movies' prolog, in which the protagonist, Bazil, loses his father to a land mine and his mother to a sanitarium, and escapes from a prison-like orphanage in the laundry truck, the film has a Chaplinesque feel for a time. The adult Bazil (Dany Boon), now a clerk in a video store, is shot in the head by a stray bullet from a gang gunfight. His time in the hospital leaves him homeless, jobless, and with a bullet still lodged in his brain that causes occasional seizures. He copes by begging, busking, and mime, until he is picked up by Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle), who is the outside man for an unlikely group of people who live communally in a fantastic bunker under a junkyard.
The family, under the benign rulership of Mama Chow (Yolande Moreau) live by refurbishing and reselling junk, some of which is transformed into wondrous inventions by Petit Pierre (Michel Cremades). The group includes an eclectic collection of odd talents, such as a contortionist (Julie Ferrier), a lightning calculator (Marie-Julie Baup), and a human cannonball (Dominique Pinion).
The group adopts Bazil, and he is happily working as a junk-picker when he discovers the headquarters of two weapons manufacturers, one of which made the land mine that killed his father, and one that made the bullet he was shot with. He determines to take revenge, and his new family insist on helping, turning their odd talents to run an elaborate set of old-style "Mission Impossible" operations against the bad guys.
The arms dealers, Marconi (Nicolas Marie) and de Fenouillet (Andre Dussolier) are cartoon villains, but with some interesting quirks. Marconi is a more normal corporate jerk, but compares himself and his work to great poets. De Fenouillet has the grisly hobby of collecting body parts of famous dead people. We see each eating a shrimp dinner: Marconi, watching the news on TV, munches down the shrimp like a machine, one after another, shells and all, seeming to not even taste them. By contrast, de Fenouillet carefully peels all his shrimp, carefully arranges them on his plate, and then spears four at once and stuffs them triumphantly into his mouth. His wife's expression indicates she has seen this performance before.
Convinced that each has been plaguing the other, they take their own actions, escalating to serious sabotage and armed assault. It is at this point that things go wrong for Bazil, who is captured and identified as the disturbing agent. His friends have to rescue him with a "Plan B" that ends up as what Georgie described as "one of the best caper movies since "The Sting".
Like others of Jeunet's films, "Micmacs" is an interesting combination of sweet and sinister. The interactions of the junkyard dwellers are warm and funny; the arms dealers and their would-be clients are evil; there is some serious violence, although few people are killed. The film itself is quite coherent in narrative, although of course fantastic in that a handful of misfits armed with "salvaged gear" succeed in bringing down two large corporations. Clever, amusing, and sometimes amazing, "Micmacs" is highly recommended for fans of the quirky. In French, with English subtitles. No overt sex or identifiable bad language.
Since the beginning of summer 'blockbuster' season seems to be past, we now have glut of enticing "indie" cinema upon us: coming up, "I Am Love," "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinski," , "The Girl Who Played With Fire," and possibly "Winter's Bone"--.